Friday, November 30, 2012

Today Was the Day

I was filling out a deposit slip this morning, November 30, 2012. The date struck me and it took me a minute to remember why. It was a Sunday night, November 30, 1975. We called it "Youth Night," a worship service led entirely by the teenagers. After a few songs, prayers and testimonies, a nervous fifteen year old boy got up, opened his Bible and tried his best to preach a sermon. Afterwards, the home folks were kind and encouraging, though the most notable thing about that sermon was its brevity, only eleven minutes long, start to finish. Nobody complained about that. And yes, that young man was me, thirty-seven years ago today, preaching my first sermon.

Since that first fearful and yet affirming experience I have stepped to the pulpit nearly 3,000 times, give or take a Sunday or two. Add in over 500 funerals and around 200 weddings. Throw in a few odds and ends, retreats and revivals, some odder than others. That's a lot of talk, isn't it? Can't help but think I should be better at this by now.

I made a personal pledge early in my ministry to always make my next sermon my best sermon, always trying to improve. I made the mistake of sharing my pledge with a friend in the church I served who then would shake my hand leaving church each week saying, "Well, you shouldn't have any trouble beating that one next week!"

Thirty-seven years of preaching the best news in the world. What a sacred task and high privilege. I thank God for those first listeners who endured my teenage ramblings, patted me on the head, and pointed me down the path God desired for me. Had they been harsh or critical or unkind, I wonder what I would have done and what I might have missed. So, today, November 30, I say thank you, God, for that first moment, those first words, and those first good and godly people who blessed a boy and sent him on his way.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

When You Just Can't Sleep

Do you have trouble sleeping at night? I heard on the news this morning that a high percentage of us struggle just to find the relief of a few hours of good rest. Twenty-five percent of American adults have taken some kind of sleeping medication. So it seems our national nightmare is the tossing and turning, pounding our pillows, and staring at our alarm clock, knowing we have to get up in just a few hours and face the new day, rested or weary, energized or comatose.

Insomnia takes many forms. Some can't get to sleep, others can't stay asleep, while still others can't get back to sleep. The culprit robbing us of our winks might be pain or anger or anxiety or stress or just a mind that refuses to shut down at closing time. And more than a few of us deal with more serious issues like sleep apnea or other sleep disorders. Some of my friends have had to put on the breathing apparatus every night just to keep them going through the night.

On the lighter side, some of us snore like chainsaws and send our spouses scrambling in the dark for ear plugs, extra pillows, or maybe a shotgun. My brother gave me some real wisdom about sleeping as we grow older. He said that between the time our children quit getting us up at night and the time when our bladder starts getting us up at night is only about two weeks. Not much time to enjoy a full night's sleep. He's right, isn't he?

Well, I'll leave it to the specialists to treat the physical problems of those in the grip of insomnia. But I would like to share a thought or two about the spiritual issues that may be related to our sleeplessness. A few questions for you to ponder:
  • When you lie awake at night, do you have a sense of God's presence with you, surrounding you?
  • Are you aware that God knows your thoughts?
  • Is there any agenda that God might want to address with you?
  • Are you worried about someone you love?
  • Have you been wronged or wounded and can't understand why??
  • Are you angry or bitter towards anyone?
  • Is there some dark corner of your life that you do not want exposed to God or anyone else?
  • Is there a difficult decision that you must make and you are fearful of making the wrong choice?
  • Does God seem to be absent or silent in your time of need?
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes", maybe the best use of your midnight madness is to genuinely, openly pray, remembering C. S. Lewis' wisdom that we must pray what is in us, not what ought to be in us. Have you ever prayed in the darkness, just pouring out and lifting up everything that troubles your mind and disturbs your sleep? These midnight prayers may not be the Sunday morning variety. Some nights you may need to just flush your heart of all the toxic waste of the day and let God do His renewing work in you. Let Him remind you of His promises and embrace you as His dearly loved child.

Years ago, when one of our children would climb in bed with us during a storm or after a bad dream, they would usually fall off to sleep before I could even cover them up next to me. My children never struggled to sleep when they were snuggled next to me. So it is for the children of God. Come near, climb in, and snuggle up. Tell Him what hurts and why you are frightened. His peace will settle over you like a warm blanket and you will find rest for your soul - body, mind, and spirit.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giving Thanks - Francis Frangipane

The very quality of your life, whether you love it or hate it, is based upon how thankful you are toward God. It is one's attitude that determines whether life unfolds into a place of blessedness or wretchedness. Indeed, looking at the same rose bush, some people complain that the roses have thorns while others rejoice that some thorns come with roses. It all depends on your perspective.

This is the only life you will have before you enter eternity. If you want to find joy, you must first find thankfulness. Indeed, the one who is thankful for even a little enjoys much. But the unappreciative soul is always miserable, always complaining. He lives outside the shelter of the Most High God.

It does not matter what your circumstances are; the instant you begin to thank God, even though your situation has not changed, you begin to change. The key that unlocks the gates of heaven is a thankful heart. Entrance into the courts of God comes as you simply begin to praise the Lord.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Remembering Our Veterans

"For it has been said so truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of the speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, who coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag." - Zell Miller

"To be free to have a choice and a voice means that veterans have been quieted through death." - Byron Pulsifer

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same." - Ronald Reagan

"We, too, born to freedom, and believing in freedom, are willing to fight to maintain freedom. We, and all others who believe as deeply as we do, would rather die on our feet than live on our knees." - Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When the Smoke Clears

As you read this, the polls will be closing soon and the news media will be rushing to be the first to determine the winners and losers in this hotly contested election. Everyone seems to anticipate a very close presidential vote. And apparently, the vast majority of Americans are solidly in one camp or the other, leaving a relative handful of undecided voters to pick the winner. With such strongly entrenched opinions on both sides, the rhetoric has continued to escalate week by week. In spite of countless commercials suggesting otherwise, I am confident that neither candidate is the antichrist and neither candidate is the savior of the world.

Whoever is elected, what happens next? My concern is whether or not our country still possesses the willingness and ability to come together in support of our leadership, new or returning, and work for a brighter future. We have witnessed in our recent history the futility and frustration of partisan political wars. Instead of focusing on consensus-building and finding our common ground in order to address our country's needs and solve our growing problems, we have seen stonewalling and finger-pointing and an unwillingness  to compromise, party before country, power before progress. And both parties are to blame for this sorry state of things. This is the nature of our political landscape in America these days.

I heard a political commentator say last night that if Romney wins, he will be elected with the smallest percentage of minority votes of any president in history, and if Obama wins, he will be re-elected with the smallest percentage of white votes. I find that troubling, even disturbing. No one wants to suggest that race plays a major part in how many people feel in this election, though I did hear John Sonunu suggest that Colin Powell's endorsement of President Obama was based on race.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that everyone who votes for a person of their own ethnic background is racially prejudice. People support or reject political candidates for any number of reasons, hopefully including a careful consideration of their positions on important issues. But I do wonder if possibly sometimes, some people might be subtly influenced for or against a candidate on the basis of their cultural and ethnic biases.

Here's a question to ponder: Would it make any difference to you if Mr. Romney was African American or Hispanic or Asian? Would you feel any differently about President Obama if he were white? I know that most everyone would be quick to answer, "No! Of course not! I'm no racist!" But do think it over. We may be more influenced, even in subtle, subconscious ways, than we are willing to admit. The numbers don't lie. Apparently, at least for some if not many, race is a significant factor.

So when the smoke clears no matter who wins, we will all have one president. One president, not to reject and belittle, not to resist and frustrate, not to work against and undermine. One president to hear and support, to work with and to pray for, to help renew and rebuild our land. I know we will have disagreements and some issues will always be divisive. But I am praying that we can find again that which truly is the heartbeat and genius of a democracy - when the smoke clears, we are one.